NFL rule changes galore! Roger Goodell just can’t steer clear of controversial rule book territory. No doubt concussions are horrible on the gridiron, but is tinkering with kickoffs really the only “solution” the NFL board of executives would consider? It’s time to address the dull reality facing us today: kickoffs have become the most boring play to watch in the NFL.
It’s no surprise that the value of a return man has diminished since 2011, when kickoffs were moved from a team’s 30 to 35 yard line. According to espn.com, we saw a 43% drop in the number of reported concussions between 2010 and 2011. What a significant difference five yards can make.
Kick return yardage is also drastically decreasing. In 2010, there were 16 players who returned kickoffs for over 1,000 yards. In 2015, that number shrank to a dismal two players (Ameer Abdullah and Cordarrelle Patterson). Interestingly enough, neither made the pro bowl.
Roger Goodell and his staff became a bit of a laughing stock over this past off-season when several teams expressed interest in exploiting the new rule change in a way that the league hadn’t anticipated. The league’s thought process was that kick returners won’t want to run the ball out of the end zone as frequently since it’s harder to reach the 25 yard line than it is the 20.
But, some teams have kicked the ball short of the end zone, attempting to pin their opponent inside their 25 yard line. And why wouldn’t a team try that? After all, starting from your 25 yard line is better for the offense than starting at your 20 yard line.
This rule simply hasn’t worked, not the way the league wanted it to at least. There are more kick returns this season than there were last year at this point. In fact, baltimoresun.com reports roughly a 7% increase in the number of returned kickoffs.
Now, for some reason, kickoffs are immediately followed with a commercial break, which irritates fans very much. Since most kickoffs aren’t even returned, the whole post-touchdown sequence is unfathomably boring. Kickoff. No return. Commercial break. Resume game. Repeat. No wonder fans aren’t tuning into games as much this season.
Don’t people miss the excitement of a well-executed kick return? It was so much fun to see ten blockers pave the way for a speedy return man. You could compare return styles. Some are north/south runners, some are shifty, and some just have speed. Not exactly the same adrenaline rush as taking a knee, or worse, watching the ball sail beyond the end zone.
The problem prevails: How do we best protect our players while still maintaining the integrity and explosive nature of the game? Well, if the number of concussions in recent years is cut in half, then changing kickoff rules is only half a solution. Even if there is only one concussion a season, how would you like it if you were that one? Probably not too good. There is no sensible rationalization for any amount of concussions if it results in permanent brain damage. The perfect helmet is still far from its inception, if it ever arrives.
Maybe the rule change we need is to align the players on the field differently. If concussions are occurring more so on kickoffs because players are flying down the field and colliding with one another, then reduce the distance that the kickoff team has to run down. This will eliminate any high speed collisions, turning the kickoff into just another play. This issue is no doubt about balance between safety and fun. But by decreasing the frequency of kickoffs, it’s not exactly addressing the concussion problem; it’s merely trying to avoid it.
So yes, either have kickoffs where players don’t start so far from each other or eliminate them altogether. We will not miss the spectacle of the kicker showing off his leg.